by Rachelle Tannenbaum
Autism is something we hear about a great deal in the news, but many people are not fully aware of what autism is or how to recognize the symptoms. In this issue, Steve Borawski will shed some light for us.
Steve Borawski has a master’s degree in experimental psychology from Bowling Green State University. Before becoming a psychology professor at AACC, he worked at Boston University School of Medicine in a lab which conducts research involving children and adults with autism spectrum disorders, Williams syndrome, and specific language impairment. And most importantly, he is the father of three-year-old twins (a boy and a girl).
If you’d like to learn more, you may be interested in the forum on “Grandparenting Special Needs Children” that will be offered on May 30. This program is a joint venture between The Friends of Early Intervention, the local chapter of Autism Society of America, and The Parenting Center. Watch our website for more details.
by Steve Borawski
Why All the Fuss?
Autism has been in the headlines a lot lately because the rate of diagnosis has dramatically increased over the last few decades. There is great uncertainty as to why this is happening. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, the diagnostic criteria for autism have changed. And second, there is a greater awareness of the disorder, so parents and physicians are more likely to spot it.
Autism has also been in the news because some people have claimed that vaccines, especially the MMR vaccine, are causing autism in young children. However, this claim is not supported by the evidence. Vaccinations are an important part of preventative care for children. All large-scale scientific research indicates the rates of autism are the same in populations that don’t vaccinate vs. those that do. For more information, see the American Academy of Pediatrics Web site, or talk to your pediatrician.
What is Autism?
Autism is a neurological condition and falls under the diagnostic category Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD). Also in this category are five other disorders, such as Asperger’s syndrome and Rett syndrome. Generally speaking, autism is a malfunctioning of the brain that affects normal mental development. Sufferers of this affliction have trouble communicating and interacting with people. In many cases there are also cognitive deficits associated with autism. Children with this disorder may appear very withdrawn; eye contact is very limited and mechanical in nature. They may not talk, or may have speech that is very limited or repetitive. Their play usually does not involve others and is limited to a preferred range of activities and interests.
The above description is very general and there is a lot of variability with how autism manifests. In fact, autism is so diverse in its symptoms and severity that it is often referred to as “autism spectrum disorder.” Individuals can be described as “low functioning” or “high functioning” autism depending on how severe their symptoms are and the results of cognitive testing. Low functioning children might not speak or respond to their names; at the other end of the spectrum there are individuals that may just seem socially awkward.
Science does not yet know what causes autism. There are, however, some known risk factors:
- Gender: Males are two to four times more likely to develop this disorder than females.
- Genetics: If a parent has one child with autism they have a 50 to 100 times greater risk of having another child with autism, compared to the general population.
In about 20% of autism cases, children develop at a normal pace, but then start to regress around age 1-2. In the remaining cases, children simply fail to develop appropriate skills in the first place. The first thing that caregivers often notice is a problem in how that child interacts with them. For example, their child may not cuddle, reciprocate during play, or make eye contact. Language delays are another big sign that something may be wrong. Language delays may turn out to be unrelated to autism, but in any case they should be evaluated by the child’s pediatrician.
Below is a list of the most common signs of autism. If your child exhibits some of these and you have concerns, consult your pediatrician.
No babbling, pointing or gesturing by 12 months
No single-word usage by 16 months
No two-word usage by 24 months
The loss of language or social skills at any age
Does not respond to his or her name
Prolonged stares at wheels or spinning objects
A marked lack of facial expression
Becomes very upset if routines are disrupted.
CONTINUE TO PAGE 2